The director of an underwater hotel explains how guests are using technology as they learn advanced diving techniques.
Lance Rennka: wired deep-sea hotelier
As director of the Scott Carpenter Man in the Sea (MITS) diving program, I run the only two operational underwater habitats in the world. One is the Jules' Undersea Lodge (the world's only under-water hotel), and the other is MarineLab Undersea Laboratory, an underwater research facility. Both are situated about 22 feet underwater in a lagoon in Key Largo, Fla. Each year more than 500 people come through the program--recreational divers to university researchers--to learn advanced diving techniques as they apply to marine archaeology and marine biology. We even have a mock-up of a 16th-century Spanish galleon, complete with pottery shards and fake treasure, to help train budding marine archaeologists.
Diving, like everything else, has gone high tech. Some of our divers wear computers strapped to their wrists that monitor time, depth, and blood gases. In the future they'll have information displayed in their masks.
To get into the habitats, we swim down and enter from underneath into an air pocket. All clothing and electrical equipment, including laptops and underwater cameras, are wrapped in plastic and then transported down in airtight suitcases.
I now have more than $5 million worth of toys in the habitats, including communications technology. I can communicate using a wireless sound-powered phone, a land-line phone, an intercom, an open microphone, and E-mail from my laptops. During an underwater experiment I can hold a teleconference or a videoconference with folks at a university or at our funding source, the Marine Resources Development Foundation (MRDF). Most often, our videoconferencing equipment is used for long-distance learning. In May 1995, for example, a group of high school students came for a weeklong program. At the end of the week, the students took part in a "sealink," a live satellite link, to the Seattle Aquarium.
I've been scuba diving since 1957 and have worked as an oceanographic technician, a commercial diver, and a teacher. I still conduct research as well as write books on scuba diving. Having my laptops in the habitats gives me the flexibility to write at the scene of underwater activity. I also like working in the habitats because they are oxygen-enriched environments; I think better there.
When I'm underwater I can also take care of the day-to-day business of running the MITS program. With E-mail I'm always in touch with others at MRDF and with potential clients. If I'm in a habitat when someone E-mails me, I can respond and even get started on the paperwork.
As for the hotel, it's a blast. It attracts a tremendous variety of people. We've had Belgian couples and German couples. We've had weddings and honeymoons. We've even had the Snorkeling Elvises--three Japanese men who looked like Elvis and played the King's music all night. If I had all the money in the world, I'd still be doing this job.